Tag Archives: drug violence

Dispatches from Juarez

24 Jun

Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of Mexico’s drug war and a major industrial hub and border crossing, is a surreal place.   Old American school buses painted over with white chug through this gritty town transporting hundreds of workers from the slums where they live to the massive factories, or maquiladores, that have sprung up in recent post-NAFTA years.  The army has taken over the town, and caravans of young soldiers with machine guns and rocket launchers patrol the streets, setting up road blocks and searching houses at random.

There are several factors at work in this city, and the combination of all of them has created a violent, lawless, center of urban  sprawl.  Migration, drug traficking, cartels, gangs, industrialization, and overpopulation are just a few of the problems here in Juarez.  Yet for all the negative things people say about it, I have been pleasantly surprised by much of what I see here.  For the most part, things here have been normal for me, except for the occacional brush with the army (they did come search the house I was staying at for guns and I happened to answer the door to an armed troop of soldiers in what was a seemingly peaceful suburb).

I am currently volunteering at a migrant shelter, La Casa del Migrante, a few kilometers from the border.  We mostly receive Mexicans who have been deported but we also get a few Central Americans who have come up on the train and on their way to the states.  It is both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking to talk to these guys and watch their faces as they come in every day.

Yesterday I met Alvaro, a young guy from Hondurous, who had left home with a little less then $100 and survived for three weeks on the train.  The Southern border is infamous for being controlled by las Mara, a ruthless gang that likes to murder young migrants with machetes, rape women, and extortion the poor families of the Central Americans they catch by kidnapping their victims and calling home to ask for money.  Alvaro told me he was once shot at, and saw many others falling off the train.  Another time, the Mexican migration (or las Mara pretending to be Mexican migration) rounded up about 80 of them and was placing them in a holding cell, but Alvaro somehow escaped with one other guy and ran off in the woods.  When I think about all he has been through, it blows my mind.  He is only 19.  His English is amazingly  good for having only spent one year in the states. I think he was deported but he just tells me he went back home to see his Mom.  He tells me he’s going to New Orleans, and I sure hope he gets there.

When I asked Alvaro which border was more dangerous, the southern one or the nothern one, he said he wasn’t sure.  They are both a living hell, he says.

5 Mil Muertos

3 Dec
another hour in Mexico, another death in the drug war

another hour in Mexico, another death in the drug war

The official death count this year alone due to drug violence has surpassed 5,000, according to an article in El Universal.  This number breaks all previous records and represents an average of 24 deaths per day, or a death every hour in the president’s ongoing war against organized crime.  The numbers are rising faster then ever before, and while the first thousand deaths took 113 days to accumulate, these last 1000 deaths (that changed the toll from 4,ooo to 5,ooo) were recorded in just 42 days.

In the face of such sobering news, I can’t help but ask myself how many more people must die in order to stop the corruption and organized crime that has become such an intrinsic part of Mexican society.  And I also worry that the violence, which thus far has remained concentrated in northern states close to the border, will begin to affect people like me in places like Mexico City.  And yet, the biggest question of all I find myself asking is just how effective is this war?  Are all these deaths in vain, or will the government eventually be able to take on the narcos?  After watching an airplane with Mexico’s second-in-command crash into rush hour traffic in downtown Mexico City, I can’t help but picture a David and Goliath like scenario.  It seems like the narco giants of Mexico have an unrelenting grip on power, and try as it might, the Mexican government just can’t win, even 5,000 deaths later.

Las noticias…

2 Oct
Hmm.... what could be in there?

Hmm.... what could be in there?

About a month ago, I started reading the newspapers here in Mexico.  I have a pretty long commute (see previous post), so that is kind of how it began, but let me tell you, it has been a fascinating experience.  Today, for example, I’m having a hard time deciding which is my favorite story- the barrels of bodies cooked in acid or the 6 year-old kids that have class in a local bar.

Let’s start with these mysterious barrels that turned up outside a seafood restaraunt in Tiujana yesterday.  They were certainly suspicious, smelled pretty funny, and were most likely full of human remains that had been “cooked” in acid.  The icing on the cake, however, was the handwritten note that was ductaped to the side of one of the barrels.  Loosely translated, it stated: “This is what happens to friends of the engineer, we are going to make you into Pozole.”  Now, this quote requires some background info to fully appreciate and understand.  First of all, “the engineer” is the leader of one of the many cartels that exist in Mexico.  And Pozole?  A delicious, traditional Mexican soup.  Something tells me the pozole the narcos are cooking up isn’t so delicious though…

My other favorite story of the day was actually on the front cover of Reforma, one of the most important newspapers here in Mexico City.  The headline reads… “They go the Cantina to take…. Classes!!”  (Again, some background is needed, because in Spanish to take also means to drink.)  Apparently, as a result of this massive teachers strike in nearby Cuernavaca, many of the teachers who still want to teach have been holding classes regardless, in whatever building is available to them.  And what better place to instill proper values in the youth of Mexico then, you guessed it, a Cantina!  While many of us may very well have learned more in a bar then we did in the classroom, I think that 6 years old is a bit too early to start…. Gotta love the Mexican noticias!!

Would a little whiskey help you understand that equation?

Would a little whiskey help you understand that equation?